The physical damage and human casualties resulting from the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti illustrate the devastating impact of natural hazards on communities that are not adequately prepared. The Caribbean is a region with an unusually high exposure to both earthquakes and hurricanes. Moreover, much of the infrastructure in this region does not support adequate code considerations for disaster preparedness, and many countries have limited resources to update emergency response plans. These factors make the Caribbean region one of the most vulnerable in the world to natural hazards.
Dr. Reginald DesRoches, Dean's Professor in the College of Engineering and Associate Chair in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is leading a multidisciplinary program to critically examine the region's risk, transfer integrated knowledge and tools, and provide aide to ultimately minimize the impact of these natural hazards and promote sustainable development. CHAMP’s primary role is to develop an understanding of how prepared Caribbean nations are, determine whether they are at risk for a major event, and to come up with recommendations for how to best prepare for an eventual major earthquake or hurricane.
Specifically, the project team will employ a multi-disciplinary approach to risk reduction by (1) evaluating the hazards in the region, (2) collecting GIS and remote sensing data to determine building types, (3) assessing the vulnerability of the built environment, including the adequacy of building codes and quality of construction materials, and (4) studying the level of emergency response and preparedness plans that currently exist within the countries of the Caribbean and (5) evaluating and developing methods and materials for reconstruction.
The project, which has already received funding from a non-profit organization, is a collaborative effort between the Georgia Tech schools of civil engineering, industrial engineering and the College of Architecture and involves more than 20 students.
”We’re taking a multi-faceted approach to this project looking at hazards, inventory, building materials, design codes, the implementation of codes. The group from industrial engineering is looking at logistics-based issues, such as how well prepared these countries are to respond to a disaster, and if they have effective emergency preparedness/response plans? Trips have already been taken to Puerto Rico and more are planned for Belize, Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and possibly Cuba.
DesRoches has been impressed with the performance of Georgia Tech students in the field where they’ve had to overcome cultural and language barriers as they search for ways to improve the quality of life in the Caribbean. What impresses him the most is their creativity and desire to make a difference.
“We have some really sharp students who think of things that we don’t think of as faculty members,” he says. “They really think outside of the box. Our students aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. It’s been eye-opening to see the things our students want to get involved with and get excited about. We find that a lot of the students involved in this project love the global aspect of it. They like going to all of the countries and learning about other cultures. It’s great to see that they’re so open-minded.”
As many Tech students will tell you, the ability to get out in the field and gain real-life work experience instead of spending all day every day in a classroom is part of what makes a Georgia Tech engineering degree special. There’s a lot to be said for hands-on problem solving in an environment that forces students to adapt.
“I think they want to be adaptive in terms of how they do things,” says DesRoches.” It’s a great trait. It’s a very entrepreneurial approach and I think that’s a characteristic that has really come out on these projects. They want to find their own ways to do things, and that’s good.”
If all goes well that entrepreneurial spirit will be lead to significant improvements in the way Caribbean nations prepare for natural disasters, and that preparation could result in countless lives being saved.
Please visit the CHAMP web site for complete details about the program, the people involved, and the critical research being conducted: http://www.champ.gatech.edu/.